New Telegraph

Curbing open defecation, restoring human dignity

As beautiful as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is, you still find men and women including the sophisticated ones, squatting shamelessly in the open to defecate in public places such as the highways, market places, motor parks and recreational parks. Ideally, decent toilet either publicly or privately run ought to have been provided in such places.

It is essential for every cosmopolitan city to have toilets strategically located in public places, to serve as emergency points for people who are hard pressed in public to urinate or defecate.

INSIDE ABUJA checks revealed that there are spots in the FCT where some persons specifically go to just to defecate. On one of such occasions, a young man smartly dressed, jumped down from a green-coloured Toyota Camry and dashed into one of such spots adjacent the Federal Ministry of Finance, Central Business District. Shortly after, he re-emerged from the bush looking relaxed. It was obvious that he had gone to answer nature’s call.

The young man who refused to make his identity known, said rather than use the toilet in his office, he visits that spot almost every day to carry out what he termed “bush attack”. He explained that besides being uncomfortable using public toilets for fear of contacting an infection, he enjoys the feel of the “gentle breeze on his skin” and uses that short time to reflect on some issues. Like the posh guy, many others who prefer to “zip down” in the open have similar reasons..

Open markets

However, a good number of persons are forced to resort to the demeaning act due to lack of toilet facilities in public places. For example, traders and visitors to Kubwa village market since its demolition in November 2016, have a hard time finding a place to defecate or urinate because there is no public toilet in place.

Occupants in one of the compounds opposite the market were forced to lock up their toilet when it became a public property due to the risks of infectious diseases and the inability of the multiple users to sustain its cleanliness. It is so terrible a situation that some women close their “parking store” to change their sanitary pads, wrap it up in a cellophane bag and discard on their way home. Speaking to INSIDE ABUJA, a trader in the market, Mr Ejiofor Ezugwu, said although some persons seek for places to relieve themselves around the market, others are forced to go home.

“There is no toilet here, you will look for space to do it or you plead with one of your neighbours to look after you wares while you go home to ease yourself and come back. “For me I have trained myself to defecate at home, I only urinate while I am in the market. If our customers are too pressed and find them- selves in a dilemma, we usually seek out unconventional ways to help them,” he said.

Motor parks

However, INSIDE ABUJA checks revealed that although a branch of Peace Mass Transit Company located close to the market, opened its doors to the traders to use its toilets at a fee, only few patronised them. Unlike Kubwa Market, other popular public places visited such as Jabi Motor Park, Wuse Market, Utako Modern Market, Dutse Alhaji and Garki Markets, all have public toilets. These conveniences also known as “Gidan Wanka”, are operated by private individuals at a meagre fee of between N20 to N50 depending on whether the person wants to urinate, defecate or bath.

In most of the places visited, they have six blocks of toilets located at strategic points housing both female and male toilets with running water and adorned with mirrors.

Private operators

Each operator has unique selling points; some hand out free toilet rolls to their customers, others have a jar of sweet or centre fruit gums to manage payment issues.

A common feature at all the points visited was the pride and joy expressed by the toilet operators. They make good money on a daily basis from the little money people pay to use the convenience. They do not regret the choice they have made because their lives have been made better by the “shit” business. Little wonder they devote so much time and energy ensuring the toilets were kept clean and odourless by using a combination of liquid soap mixed with klin, izal and other chemicals.

To further maintain a high level of cleanness, in one of the toilets at Dutse Alhaji Market it is a taboo to enter with your footwear; they have their own slippers at the entrance to the toilets. 19 year old James Steve who has been in charge of a row of 13 toilets in the ever busy Jabi Motor Park for over a month could not have wished for a better job.

An electrician by profession and a former employee at a car wash, James told INSIDE ABUJA that besides the job saving him from the health hazards of washing cars, he makes what he simply termed as “good thousands of naira” on a daily basis. “For now, I am happy doing this job. I don’t know what will happen next. I prefer this be- cause the car wash had a serious effect on me; the water and omo were chopping my legs, I went to the hospital and spent like N30,000 on treatment. “I used to make between N1200 and N1500 from where I take care of myself.

Here I manage the lodge and the bathroom and I make good money from the toilet. My friends and family have been encouraging me to keep up the work.” Mohammed Isah, one of the toilet operators in Wuse Market, has almost given up his part time job at the Federal College of Education Kano State, due to the huge sums of money he makes managing the toilet.”This is a business and I am passionate about it, what ever you are doing just enjoy it because you will move it the way you want,” he said.

With four persons under his employment running shifts, he maintained that it was better to survive on washing toilets than to indulge in nefarious activities. He argued that even with the volume of customers, many still prefer to defecate openly intentionally and not because they were unable to pay N20 or N40 as the case may be.

Environmental sanitation

In a bid to further improve the environ- mental sanitation of the market, Mohammed told INSIDE ABUJA that the six toilet opera- tors in collaboration with management of the market and some security operatives, have set up a task force to arrest and impose a fine on anyone found defecating in public within and around the market. “If you come here you see less people but once you go outside the market especially at the back you will see that people are doing it anyhow.

“Everybody is free to do what they like but once you are arrested you will be taught a les- son. They announce in the mosque and round the market, warning people to desist from such acts but you know not everybody will stop. Some are not even members of the market, they are people who come to buy goods,” he said.

Throwing more light on the efforts to curb open defecation in the market, a member of management at Wuse market who craved anonymity, disclosed that besides the task force and the inspection of the toilets to ensure cleanliness, a construction of four new blocks of toilets were underway in different locations within the market.

According to her, the number of those indulging in open defecation have drastically reduced since the enforcement of the task force. Besides Abuja, several operators of public toilets in several states have been able to provide food and shelter for their family from the earnings generated daily. During a trip funded by the European Union to Bodija Market in Ibadan, Oyo State.

Economic benefits

Inside Abuja encountered 56 year old Jacob Fateye who has spent nine years maintaining the public toilet.

Fateye said he had no regrets whatsoever washing and ensuring the cleanliness of the toilets as a retirement plan having served as a Sanitation Officer at Ibadan North Local Government Area. Baba as he is called by people in the market, says he generates about N2,000 daily which he has used to cater for his family and help send his children to school.

To him, there is no better joy than finding a daily income generating job rather than sitting idle at home. This shows that Nigeria can effectively end open defecation in the country if the right policies are put in place. Investors should be wooed into public, private partnerships, to ensure the citing of functional and well maintained toilets in public places in every nook and cranny across the country.

The challenge of open defecation came to the fore recently at a workshop organised by the UKAID and EU in collaboration with the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Child Right Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.

WASH impact

Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialist, Bioye Ogunjobi in his paper titled “Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet”, lamented that only 12 percent of markets and motor parks in Nigeria have basic WASH services.

He maintained that one of the ways the Federal Government can achieve the goal of an open defecation free Nigeria is through active and improved engagement of private sector investment in “shit” business. He canvassed a public private partnership, which avails private sector players a platform to build more toilets at public places across the country, usable for a fee.

Not only is this creating more jobs and improving the livelihood of the teeming population of unemployed and poverty ridden Nigerians, but it will help reduce the embarrassing figure of 47 million Nigerians said to be defecating openly in the country. It is important to note that besides the PPP arrangement, the Federal Government can also make this work through increased awareness on the implications of open defecation, a call for behavioural change and policy reform through community dialogues, advocacy visits and engagement with policy makers. Even if Nigeria takes over from India as the country with the highest number of persons defecating in the open in few months, Nigeria can wriggle out of that position through a collective and dedicated commitment of each and everyone.

Open defecation is a habit Nigerians needs to stop and it is doable. The obvious financial benefits of engaging in public toilet ventures, and its possible impact on unemployment and open defecation has made it a worthy venture.

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